Youth Need Reasons to Hope from Rio+20



Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 2012

The economic crises and social movements that have shaken many countries in the last few years underlie the desperate search of young people for hope and meaning in the face of environmental threats, lack of employment opportunities, shrinking economies and social disruption. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro on 20-22 June 2012 should take courageous decisions on the green economy and institutional arrangements for sustainability that will give youth a reason to look positively on their future.

To resolve a variety of problems born of the economic inequalities so prevalent in the world today, social and economic development will require, especially among the younger generations, a fundamental re-examination of certain relationships and fundamental concepts that currently sustain society and its structures, such as the relationships amongst and between nation states and the very concept of sovereignty itself; the true purpose of life; the nature of progress; the meaning of true happiness and well-being; the place that material pursuits should assume in one's individual and family life; and the role of youth as contributors to planetary wellbeing.

Social justice will be attained only when every member of society enjoys a relative degree of material prosperity and gives due regard to the development of spiritual capabilities. The solution, then, to prevailing economic difficulties is to be sought as much in the application of spiritual principles as in the implementation of scientific methods and evidence-based approaches that ensure material prosperity.

We need to start with an appropriate view of material wealth and its utilization. In the material world, to every end has been assigned a means for its accomplishment. Thus vigilance must be exercised in distinguishing "means" from "ends"; otherwise, what is intended as a mere instrument could easily become the very goal of an individual's life.

The acquisition of wealth is a case in point; it is acceptable and praiseworthy to the extent that it serves as a means for achieving higher ends--for meeting one's basic necessities, for fostering the progress of one's family, for promoting the welfare of society, and for contributing to the establishment of a world civilization. But to make the accumulation of wealth the central purpose of one's life is unworthy of any human being.

An idea closely related to the above is that the end does not serve to justify the means. However constructive and noble the goal, however significant to one's life or to the welfare of one's family, it must not be attained through unjust or elicit means.

The legitimacy of wealth depends on how it is acquired and on how it is expended. Wealth is praiseworthy in the highest degree, if it is acquired by an individual's own efforts in commerce, agriculture, crafts and industry, if the measures adopted by the individual in generating wealth serve to enrich the generality of the people, and if the wealth thus obtained is expended for philanthropic purposes and the promotion of knowledge, for the establishment of schools and industry and the advancement of education, and in general for the welfare of society and the betterment of the world.

A host of negative forces, generated by the materialism and corruption so widespread in the world, present a challenge in upholding standards of ethical and moral conduct with respect to financial affairs. The members of every generation would do well to ponder the difference between gaining wealth through earnest effort on the one hand, and, on the other, obtaining it without exertion or through dishonourable means. Rampant corruption and deceit must end, and it is here that the youth of the world can distinguish themselves through a moral rectitude of conduct so refined that it will radically transform the unjust relationships that perpetuate global poverty and the concentration of wealth by a few. Let them consider the consequences of each for the spiritual development of the individual, as well as the progress of society, and ask themselves what possibilities exist for generating income and acquiring wealth that will ensure true happiness through the development of spiritual qualities, such as honesty, trustworthiness, generosity, justice, and consideration for others, and the recognition that material means are to be expended for the betterment of the world.

Today the world is assailed by an array of destructive forces. Materialism has now spread to every corner of the planet, breeding, in the name of a strong global economy and human welfare, a culture of consumerism. It skillfully and ingeniously promotes a habit of consumption that seeks to satisfy the basest and most selfish desires, while encouraging the expenditure of wealth so as to prolong and exacerbate social conflict. One result is a deepening confusion on the part of young people everywhere, a sense of hopelessness in the ranks of those who would drive progress, and the emergence of a myriad social maladies.

The key to resolving these social ills rests in the hands of a youthful generation convinced of the nobility of all human beings; eagerly seeking a deeper understanding of the true purpose of existence; clear in the view of science and religion as two independent yet complementary systems of knowledge that propel human progress; conscious of and drawn to the beauty and power of unity in diversity; secure in the knowledge that real glory is to be found in service to one's country and to the peoples of the world; and mindful that the acquisition of wealth is praiseworthy only insofar as it is attained through just means and expended for benevolent purposes, for the promotion of knowledge and toward the common good. Thus must the youth of the world prepare themselves to shoulder the tremendous responsibilities that await them, immune to the atmosphere of greed that surrounds them.

We call on the leaders of government, business and civil society assembled in Rio to take courageous decisions in favour of future generations, and to inspire the youth of their countries and the world to press forward toward these challenging goals.

* The International Environment Forum ( is a Bahá'í-inspired professional organization for environment and sustainability in the science and technology major group, with members in over 50 countries. This statement contains material from a message dated 2 April 2010 from the international council of the Bahá'í Faith.

Last updated 9 June 2012